Avisail Garcia's return has been one of the more exciting stories of the second half of the White Sox season, but he recently ran into a rough stretch at the plate that dampened enthusiasm a bit.
On August 18, Garcia was hitting .300/.378/.500, but in the following 13 games, he slashed just .180/.222/.380 with 19 strikeouts in 54 plate appearances. It's a pretty small sample, but there's also a pretty clear explanation for the struggles: Garcia has been swinging too much.
First, let's look at the obvious. Garcia is 23 years old. He has just 410 major league plate appearances to his name and has hit a respectable .279/.317/.417 at this level. "Young, Inexperienced Player Has Trouble With Strike Zone Judgment" isn't exactly a shocking headline, and everyone in the White Sox organization should be thrilled to have a player with Garcia's talent and potential. Patience at the plate is a skill that often develops over a player's first several seasons, and there's no reason for anyone to jump to conclusions at this stage.
However, there is some concern that Garcia won't find lasting success in the majors if he doesn't learn to show some more self-control at the dish. He swung at 46.9 percent of pitches outside the strike zone during the slump, which would be second-highest in the majors among qualified hitters. He also whiffed on a staggering 69.1 percent of those outside-the-zone swings. That clears Chris Carter's league-leading 58.2 percent by plenty.
The trigger-happiness is no secret. During Garcia's recent cold streak, just 36.2 percent of pitches he saw were in the strike zone. That would be the lowest rate in the majors among qualified hitters, and it indicates that pitchers understand that you don't need to throw Avisail a strike to get him out. This is a real flaw in Garcia's approach right now, and it's being exploited pretty heavily.
It needs to be kept in mind that this is all a two week time period, and that we shouldn't conclude that Garcia is irreparably bad when it comes to plate discipline. However, this is the one part of his game that stood out as an area for improvement even prior to his recent downturn. Pitchers will probably continue to prey on Garcia's aggression, so he'll be prone to stretches like this in the future unless he makes an adjustment.
This serves as a reminder that plate discipline is about more than simply drawing walks. Guys like Adam Jones are evidence that you can be a very effective hitter without seeing ball four all that often. However, guys like (::gulp::) Dayan Viciedo are cautionary tales of what can happen if the lack of walks is a result of getting yourself out on bad pitches. It's far too early to assign Garcia either fate, and the wide range of possibilities for his future makes this a situation worth watching.
That's where Todd Steverson comes into play. Many White Sox players began 2014 with a more selective approach at the plate under Steverson's tutelage, which was a sight for sore eyes after the 2013 White Sox drew the fewest walks in the American League. Viciedo in particular seemed to buy into the program early on before later reverting to his old ways. It should be everyone's hope that Garcia proves to be a better pupil, because his performance will play a big role in whether the White Sox can right the ship over the next couple of seasons. His game last night -- 2 for 3 with a double, a walk, and a couple nice check swings on pitches out of the zone -- was a great step towards getting things back on track. We're familiar with the hard contact that Garcia can provide when he connects. Here's hoping he can start to get himself some better pitches to hit.